Former Da Nang leaders jailed over land management violations

By Bao Ha, Pham Du   January 13, 2020 | 02:02 am PT
Former Da Nang leaders jailed over land management violations
Van Huu Chien (L) and Tran Van Minh, former chairmen of Da Nang, arrive at the Hanoi court, January 13, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Two former chairmen of Da Nang City received long jail terms Monday for land violations committed in favor of a real estate tycoon.

A Hanoi court sentenced Tran Van Minh, 64, Chairman of the Da Nang People’s Committee from 2006 to 2011, to 17 years in prison while Van Huu Chien, 64, who occupied the same post from 2011 to 2014, got 12 years.

Both men were found guilty of violating regulations on managing and using state property, causing waste and losses, as well as engaging in wrongdoing in connection with land and public property administration and use.

Investigators found the two had signed several documents to transfer land use rights to Phan Van Anh Vu, a former real estate tycoon and briefly a fugitive from the law.

The court also handed out a sentence of 25 years in jail for Vu, who is already serving long prison sentences for other crimes.

The investigation into the two former Da Nang leaders was part of a probe into Vu's dubious acquisition of public lands. They had been arrested in April 2018.

During Minh’s time as chairman, Vu established five real estate companies that managed to acquire a lot of public land and secure housing project contracts.

Minh was alleged to have enabled the tycoon to acquire the assets without going through any bidding process and at below market prices. He then approved Vu’s sale of the same lands.

In all, Vu acquired 18 public property projects and seven land lots. These transactions caused an estimated loss of more than VND22 trillion ($949 million) to Da Nang.

Investigators said Minh was supported by Chien, then his deputy. The latter signed a series of decisions setting prices and allowing the transfer of land and projects to Vu. All the decision were found to be illegal.

After taking over as chairman in 2011, Chien continued to authorize the sale of public assets to Vu at below market prices, causing a loss of VND14 trillion, investigators said.

Their actions not only caused huge losses to the state budget, but also violated public trust and caused public distress, the court heard.

Thirty seven assets acquired by Vu have been seized so far.

The court also announced sentences of 1.5-6 years in jail for 18 other defendants in the case, 13 of them former municipal officials. These include a former director and deputy director of the city’s finance department, two former directors of the natural resources department, a former deputy chief of staff of the city, and a former head of the administration’s urban management office.

Vu, 44, used to be one of the biggest developers in Da Nang, the third largest city in Vietnam after Hanoi and HCMC.

Authorities issued an international arrest warrant for him in December 2017 for revealing state secrets after he left the country. He was reportedly detained in Singapore the same month for violating that country's immigration laws and deported to Vietnam, where he was arrested upon arrival.

Vu was sentenced to nine years in prison for "deliberately disclosing state secrets" in July, 2018. An appeal court three months later commuted his sentence to eight years.

He had also been under investigation for "tax evasion," "abuse of power or position in performance of official duties," "abuse of power or position to appropriate property," and "violating regulations on the management and use of state-owned property that led to losses or squander" in separate cases.

The biggest casualties in those cases so far are former deputy public security ministers Bui Van Thanh, 60, and Tran Viet Tan, 64, who were imprisoned last January for negligence in public land management.

On June 7 last year, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Vu to 25 years in jail before adding 15 more years a week later.

In total, Vu will now have to stay behind bars for 30 years. Under current laws, a person with multiple sentences, not including life sentence, will serve a maximum of 30 years in jail.

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